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“Mr. High School Sports” – Vincentian, Montour Boys Recapture WPIAL Basketball Crowns

By Matt Popchock
Palumbo Center scoreboard

(Photo Credit: CBS Pittsburgh)

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PITTSBURGH (93-7 THE FAN) — The boys’ portion of the WPIAL Basketball Championships began Friday night at the A.J. Palumbo Center with two teams capturing their second district crowns in three years.

The town had been abuzz over Clairton’s stunning semifinal victory over defending champ Lincoln Park, but Cinderella’s stagecoach turned into a pumpkin upon reaching The Bluff. Vincentian Academy humbled the Bears, 86-74, in the Class A Final behind 24 points (7-of-11) and ten rebounds from junior forward Jim Kenna, and an event-record 31 free throws as a team.

“We shoot a lot of foul shots because of the way we press the action. Teams get a little tired, and can’t move their feet, so we double possessions, and we should shoot a lot of foul shots,” head coach George Yokitis said.

Kenna, who went 4-of-6 behind the arc, was a perfect 6-of-6 at the line, and senior guard Tony DiNardo went 12-of-16 in foul shots, finishing with 16 points, five boards, and four assists.

“He started one year on his grade-school team, and couldn’t start again. But he just works, and works, and I think he’s the most composed kid you’ll ever see,” Yokitis said of Kenna.

The Royals pumped in some key shots early, and Clairton pumped up the tempo, which seemed to keep the game within reach. Still, Vincentian matched that intensity, and it got the Bears into foul trouble toward the end of both halves. Armani Ford fouled out with ten points, and fellow starter Tyler Boyd, Pitt’s prized football recruit, fouled out with seven and ten rebounds.

Clairton counter-punched effectively in the second quarter to force a 39-39 halftime draw. Senior guard Bryon Clifford, who finished with 20 points on 9-of-24 shooting, hit four field goals in a row. But the stream froze over in the second half, as the Bears shot just 35% the rest of the way. Terrish Webb, who registered 15 points and was a presence down low with Clifford in the first half, missed his last seven attempts.

Meanwhile, Vincentian picked up its own inside game. Jay Cortese, one of five Royals in double figures, scored 13 off the bench; Kevin Fischer had ten, and Ryan Wolfe 14 to go with his nine boards. Ultimately, VA enjoyed a 49-34 edge off the glass.

“Generally, we get a spurt or two, and I think we got a spurt in the third quarter,” Yokitis said. “It was stealing the ball. Jay gave us some energy, and I think that changed the game. For us, it was a typical night.”

Vincentian will face North Clarion, the third-place team from District 9, in the First Round of the PIAA Class A Playoffs next Friday.

Chartiers Valley, like the Royals, was one of the most capable squads offensively in WPIAL boys’ hoops, and for a while it appeared the Colts would avenge the disappointment of 2011, the last time they played for a district title. However, Montour, as it did to favored South Fayette that same year, ratcheted up its defense and made crucial shots outside to pull off a 47-40 victory in the Class AAA Final.

Senior Spencer Casson set an early tone with a couple of dunks, and helped push his team to a 29-16 first-half advantage as the Spartans turned the ball over and struggled to find an answer for the destructive 6’6″ center down low. Momentum gradually switched sides after head coach Adam Kaufman got 6’4″ swingman Dustin Sileva off the bench and on Casson. Chartiers Valley lost its edge inside, and although Casson finished with 18 points (8-of-10) and 12 rebounds, he didn’t manage a bucket after halftime until 2:05 remaining in regulation.

“We had the same plan in the second half that we had in the first half. We just executed it better, and Dustin really stepped up,” Sileva’s head coach, Adam Kaufman, said. “We were very out of character in the first half. He played a great game the same way as when we played those guys a second time at home…he defended and rebounded pretty well. He had a little more confidence in himself because he had done it a few weeks earlier.”

Montour, during that defensive coup, embarked on what would become a 16-4 run from the end of the second quarter through the end of the third, and it took the lead late in the fourth thanks to one of three three-pointers from Kevin Scuilli, echoing his clutch performance at Palumbo from sophomore year. In stark contrast, Chartiers Valley shot just 20% in the second half, including 0-of-12 from three-point distance.

Senior guard Devin Wilson carved up the Colts’ zone defense for a game-high 19 points (7-of-12). He went 5-of-6 at the line and led Montour with eight rebounds and four assists. Michael Boulos, the only other player to reach double figures, netted 12 and five boards, and his runner with 38 seconds left pulled Chartiers Valley within three until Wilson’s free throws salted the game away.

“I really enjoy the seniors, and next year, I’ll really enjoy those seniors. I remember being a senior, I remember losing my last game, and I remember that feeling,” Kaufman said. “If I could, I would love every senior to win his last game. For me, that’s the nice thing, that they’ll remember this moment.

“Devin took control of the game, and calmed our guys down. He’s a calming influence.”

Fittingly, the Spartans will get another look at South Fayette, the local sixth-place finisher, next Friday, in the First Round of the PIAA Class AAA Playoffs.

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In the girls’ Class AA Final, a 66-game district winning streak by two-time WPIAL champion Seton-LaSalle, the No. 3 girls’ squad in the state according to MaxPreps, came to a surprising end. Section rival Bishop Canevin, last year’s championship game victim, upset the Rebels, 56-47, for its first-ever title.

Seton-LaSalle’s seemingly invincible inside game, led by Naje Gibson and Angela Heintz, was no match for the outside shooting of the Crusaders, as Johnie Olkosky led them with 26 points, including 21 behind the arc.

For more coverage of the girls’ championships, check out “Mr. High School Sports” again Saturday night, as we report on the Class AAAA Final between Bethel Park and Chartiers Valley at 7:00 from Duquesne.

(Follow me on Twitter @mpopchock.)